A top Congolese military official, Gen. Sylvain Ekenge has averred that if Rwanda wants war, “it will have war”.
Ekenge, who is the spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu province, made the inflammatory comments to thousands in eastern Congo protesting the recent capture of a nearby town by rebels.
The officer said “Rwanda does not like us. We are not afraid of it and we will fight it”
“If it wants war, it will have war,” he said, adding: “No one will occupy a single centimeter of our territory.”
According to reports, the recent escalating tensions come after the M23 rebel movement seized Bunagana, a key town in eastern Congo.
On his part, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, in a statement called for the newly created East African Regional Force to be activated for eastern Congo, noting with concern the “open hostilities” there.
Kenyatta, chairman of the East African Community, called for a cessation of hostilities and for the three provinces to be declared a “weapons-free zone” where anyone outside mandated forces would be disarmed.
Meanwhile, an official with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, said Wednesday it could not confirm whether Rwandan or Ugandan forces helped the M23 rebel movement seize Bunagana.
In a news conference, Lt. Frederic Harvey, the mission’s chief of liaison with the Congolese army, said “MONUSCO has not been able to verify by its own means these allegations”.
Reports have it that Rwanda and Uganda have denied for years that they support the M23 rebel movement. Many of the M23 fighters are Congolese ethnic Tutsis and Rwanda’s president is of Rwandan Tutsi descent. M23 has in turn accused Congolese officials of stoking xenophobia.
Meanwhile, Rwanda’s government has blamed Congolese forces for injuring several civilians in cross-border shelling. In a recent development, a government statement said that the Rwandan military “will continue to seek guarantees that cross-border attacks on Rwanda’s territory are stopped.”
It could be recalled that the M23 rose to prominence about a decade ago when its fighters seized Goma, the largest city in Congo’s east which sits along the border with Rwanda. It was gathered that the rebels were pushed out of Goma and, after a peace deal, many of M23′s fighters were integrated into Congo’s national military.
Surprisingly, the rebels made a comeback earlier this year, launching an offensive against Congo’s military after saying the government had failed to live up to its decade-long promises.
In the latest protest, demonstrators in Goma called on the international community to intervene amid rising tensions.
It is germane to establish that relations between Rwanda and Congo have been strained for decades. Rwanda alleges that Congo gave refuge to the ethnic Hutus who carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The two countries have long accused each other of supporting various rival armed groups.
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